After spending almost a week in Taiwan, I know it’s kind of overwhelming when it comes to traveling in a brand new country. I’m here to tell you my journey, my experiences and my feelings in this beautiful country day by day.
I hope you guys enjoy it!
Day 1 – A rainy day in Taiwan
//Longshan Temple Tour
My flight landed in Taiwan in the late afternoon.
The weather was kind of gloomy with the rain pouring down from time to time.
Rain, rush hours and the darkness were urging people to go faster and faster so that they could have a rest with their families after a long day. Even though I was so eager to visit places on my to-go list, I had to spare myself some time to rest after long hours of commuting here and there.
Yet, full of excitement to explore a new country, I could not allow myself to stay in one place for too long. I opted for a tip-based free walking tour named Longshan Temple Tour at 19:30, which was provided by tourmeaway.com – a non-profit youth tourism organization based in Taipei city.
As a person who got traumatized numerous times by the group touring culture in Vietnam, I could not imagine myself booking a walking tour before. But, I’m still feeling grateful that I did.
The group side was small with only 12 people that night. We had 2 young energetic tour guides, whose name I’m terribly sorry that I could not remember. They told us so many stories, which are not only about the Bangka Lungshan Temple itself but also about the history of Taiwan and how people have lived their lives in this island country from generation to generation.
// Wanhua District
Starting off the tour with a bit of shyness but strong efforts, the young tour guide was telling us the story of how Wanhua district – the home of historic buildings like the Bangka Lungshan Temple and the Red House Theater, was established in the past. Long long ago, the Taiwanese aborigines, who were mostly Chinese immigrants, went back and forth, doing businesses and working extremely hard to earn their livings on the island. Wanhua District is the concrete attestation to the working culture as well as the most prosperous period of Taiwanese people at the time.
Unfortunately, the period did not last for long, before nature showed its destructible power and crushed the means of livelihood of people in this island country. The tide went too low for a long time, people lost their jobs as fishermen, merchants could not visit the island with their ships any longer. Everything was turning upside down. Wanhua District was losing its great wealth in many aspects, which can still be seen nowadays.
We got to see and feel the touches of history with our own eyes later on. The group was guided through a corridor full of elderly people sitting, chatting and lying down all over the place. They are homeless. Lying on the cardboard mats with a deeply weathered appearance, these vagrant elderly have nothing but their set of clothes and a bag or two of personal supplies. They are the people of the last generations since the glorious period.
These elderly people are not only seen at nearby Longshan Temple but at other big MRT stations’ entrances as well. The scene showed us the other side of the flourishing Taipei.
Question why, after twenty years or more have passed, the homeless haven’t decreased in number but have been increasing substantially by the time, is not easily answered. It’s a headache for either the governors or the local community to see all these people living without a roof over their heads for such a lengthy time. So many efforts have been poured into projects so as to make a better path for the homeless, yet, nothing has changed much.
// Herb Lane
Leaving the sad stories of the homeless behind, the two energetic tour guides gave us a try with the herbal teas at the Herb Lane. Despite the name, the place is more like a small busy market with people coming back and forth to sell and buy bags full of herbs. People here still make use of all these herbs to make the oriental medicinal drinks for the sick.
We got to try two different types of herbal tea. One was sooooo freaking bitter that none of us could take a second sip, while the other has a florally sweet taste (花茶). Everyone was learning how to cheer in Mandarin Chinese and took the bitter tea (苦茶) as a shot. Even though it’s really beneficial for one’s health, we all heaved a sigh of relief because it was only a shot, not a whole big cup! (yike!!). After the lovely tea tasting, we walked through the narrow alley of the Herb Lane straight to the Bangka Lungshan Temple.
// Bangka Lungshan Temple
Tales comes after tales. Some of us noticed a small difference in the look of this historic building right after we have arrived. Confirmed by our tour guide, the architecture of Lungshan Temple is a hybrid design of Buddhism and Daoism – the religion in which talented and kind people are worshipped and turned into gods after they pass away. There are several statues of gods in the temple, the God of Medication, the God of Career & Study, the Goddess of the Sea, and Yue Lao – the God of Love. People will come to the temple with hope and wishes for a better life. Funny enough, most of the youngsters who visit the place are to ask for a chance of love and good relationships from Yue Lao – the matchmaker who knits red strings between destined loving people.
We learned how to pray to the gods with the lighting incense sticks, and how to cast a pair of moon blocks (筊杯) to get instructions about love from Yue Lao. Rumors have it that many people have had their wishes granted and found their loved ones eventually after praying truthfully to Yue Lao.
If you are interested in the prayer process, make sure you have a local person/ tour guide to instruct you, or check this detailed article to prepare yourself before visiting Yue Lao for advice.
// The Tea Alley & Huaxi Street Night Market
The tour keeps going with us moving to another area nearby. Contradictory enough, right next to such a holistic place like Bangka Lungshan Temple, stands along a red-light area with such an antique name – The Tea Alley. The area was established since when Wanhua district was still embracing its wealthy status. People used to come to the alley to have afternoon tea with lovely ladies, which is actually a perfect cover for the prostitution activities here. The alley is still quite active until now. It just seems that modernization has slowly turned all the alluring “tea shops” into hectic restaurants, KTV and eateries.
At the end of the tour, our tour guide led us further and further into the bustling nightlife of Taiwanese people in the Snake Alley and the Huaxi Street Night Market. Every corner of these two locations gave me a soft touch of life in Vietnam the early 2000s, in which people still have to struggle by any means to make ends meet after the wartime. At the night market, multiple types of food with low prices for people who do labor work to get by and have late-night meals before they head back home with their families. The LED lights brighten the dark street, lighten the lively faces of hustlers in the middle of a humid rainy night in Taiwan.
The tour ended with us separating our way at the night market to find some savory evening snacks after 3 hours of walking around. There were so many options to choose from, rice sausage, grilled king oyster mushroom, fish ball soup, fruits, etc. They all looked so irresistible to me. However!! as the weather was a bit chilly that day, I couldn’t help stopping by a noodle restaurant for some heart-warming noodle soup and a small bowl of chunky duck blood jelly. I know many of you guys might feel buzzed regarding the name, and the ingredients of the dishes. But, trust me, you don’t know how good food can be until you try it yourself.
My night came to an end after this filling meal. I got on the train to go back to my hostel and took a good long sleep, preparing for the next exciting journey the next day.
That’s it for day 1, thank you so much for reading!
I will continue writing about my travel experiences in the near future. Stay tuned for my next article of the next few days of my journey in Taiwan.
Check out my other posts about this solo trip in Taiwan here:
Taiwan // A full-on 5-day solo itinerary in Taiwan - Day 2 Taiwan // A full-on 5-day solo itinerary in Taiwan - Day 3 Taiwan // A full-on 5-day solo itinerary in Taiwan - Day 4 - Stay tuned Taiwan // A full-on 5-day solo itinerary in Taiwan - Day 5 - Stay tuned Taiwan // What to expect: Language, Culture, and Eatery Taiwan // What to expect: Planning the trip & Reviews